Managing Mental Missteps

April 4, 2019 2:11 pm

Most people have heard of mental biases but…

Did you know that time pressure, information overload, a distracting environment and a host of other common but avoidable occurrences in the work environment make you more vulnerable to being blindsided by biased thinking?

Human brains favour efficiency over deep thinking.

This means we will always try to solve challenges with the least amount of brain power that we can get away with – and unfortunately, sometimes we use less brain power than is optimal! This is where biases bite us.

Science has made clear that our brains process challenges at multiple different levels. Many of the day-to-day challenges we encounter can be processed ‘on the ground floor’. This level of brain activity is best for routine thinking and decision-making. In these situations, our brain takes ‘short cuts’, uses limited energy and is sufficient for much of what we need to do.

However, some challenges seem routine, but there is a hidden twist – sometimes the environment has changed, or the requirements have varied slightly (but significantly). In this case, you have to apply a deeper level of processing power. For example, a product has enjoyed success in the market for several years, but new technology has shifted the way customers want to consume your product – think Newspapers. Or consider an employee reward program that pays high commission on sales and encourages ‘friendly competition’ between team members – Sales are high, but customer needs are no longer front and centre, impacting the brand and longer-term viability of your business – think Financial Services.

To address novel challenges, our brain must first recognise that the landscape has shifted sufficiently to warrant deeper thinking. This means we have to be constantly attentive and mindfulof the broader environment – which is hard when we are just dashing from one thing to the next.  Likewise, if we are overloaded with too much information or habitually narrow in our thinking, it is hard for our brain to recognise the tell-tale signs that signal ‘change is on the way’; and we miss opportunities.

Leaders are key to purposefully cultivating a work environment that makes it possible for people to pay attention and avoid mental traps and narrow thinking.

Expectations for multi-tasking, unrealistic deadlines, bombardment with too much information and even expectations of being ‘constantly on’ makes everyone more vulnerable to being blindsided by mental biases. Sometimes our efforts to ‘overachieve’ in the short-term put employees and the business at a disadvantage when it comes to strong thinking and long-term sustainability. This is especially true when working in high-stress or changing environments because we have to have the ‘brain space’ to be mindful of twists and turns that mean we need to apply deeper thinking. Even if things are stable, some challenges are just more complex or have ethical implications and require the brain to devote sufficient time and energy to reach an optimal solution.

  1. What are the things in your business culture that are making people vulnerable to biased, narrow thinking?
  2. What are you doing to cultivate a work environment that ensures people can pay attention to the decisions they are making?

Please contact us if you are interested in learning how to avoid being blindsided by biased thinking when under pressure or how to deal with complex or ethical decisions in a rapidly-changing environment.

We deliver several programs at all levels that identify blinds-spots and biases and ’embed development’ into the flow of day-to-day work including:

  1. Individuals – TalentFAST™, coaching and consulting
  2. Teams – TeamFAST™ our team assessment and coaching program
  3. At the organisational level – Change Forensic™ our participatory culture assessment, group-based learning, keynotes and online program.


Photo credits:

Edu Lauton on Unsplash

Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

Alexandre Godreau on Unsplash


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.